Well, it’s been a while since I did a post in my old format. And when reader Shan Sen (hat tip to you bro!) pointed me to this recent interview of Dynastycrook Sagarika Ghose with “historian” Sanjay Subrahmanyam, I had to blog about this:
So, let’s get started. Let’s find out what has been going in Saggy Aunty’s mind ever since she was no longer able to face the nation. Here is the first line of her article
“Sanjay Subrahmanyam has been called India’s best historian.”
Oh…the nostalgia! This line from Saggy aunty takes me right back to a bygone era. “India’s best historian”, did you say? Oh…I can just close my eyes and there it is: a roundtable at CNN-IBN with Rajdeep, Yogendra Yadav and Ram Guha. There, Rajdeep just called Yogendra India’s “numero uno psephologist”and called Ram Guha India’s “numero uno historian”. And Ram Guha and Yogendra Yadav just called Rajdeep India’s “numero uno” political analyst. Can you see it Saggy Aunty? Ah…those were good times, weren’t they Saggy Aunty for the various “numero unos” of the country? As Rajdeep would say, they had money but they also had “class”. Back then, chaiwallahs were staying within their limits and elite reporters didn’t have to beat them up to show them their place. Here’s more about Shri Sanjay Subrahmanyam:
“he writes on the early modern period and has always steered clear of being bracketed with either leftist or rightwing...”
Come on, nothing new in that. Intellectuals are forever accepting grants from capitalist countries to tell the developing world that they should all be commies. Of course, he is not “bracketed” with either left or right. That’s why we call them middlemen…
Q: Why did you call your latest book, ‘Is “Indian Civilisation” a Myth?‘
A: For me, the word ‘civilisation’ can be problematic. It allows some people to lord it over others, claiming they alone have ‘civilisation’.
Fair point. But, personally, I would prefer to read a book called “Is Indian liberalism a Myth”? For me, the word “liberalism” is problematic. It allows some people to lord it over others, claiming they alone have “class”. Let Shri Subrahmanyam continue:
“The only areas really allowed to have a civilisation, it seems, are Europe or the ‘West’, the Islamic world, India and China. There is a hierarchy between those allowed to have a civilisation and those who aren’t….Civilisation is often used as a weapon, as a stick to beat others with.”
It seems that the only areas allowed to have liberalism are Lutyens and JNU. There is a hierarchy between those who are allowed to have liberalism and those who aren’t. Liberalism is used as a weapon, as a stick to beat outsiders with.
Q: Is history being used in India today for political purposes?
A: In several countries a critical approach to history is integrated into education. Students are trained to think critically about history. That doesn’t happen much here.
See, in several countries, a critical approach to the ruling class is also integrated into education. Intellectuals are trained to think critically about the ruling class. That doesn’t happen much here either.
“The professional historian is simply not safe in this institutional setting. You can’t for example portray Tipu Sultan as a complex figure, or state easily that one needs to look at the eclectic figure that Aurangzeb was in his early years, with ties for example to a Gorakhnathi math. Or that many Hindus served in high positions in Aurangzeb’s administration. ”
The professional journalist is simply not safe in the institutional Lutyens media setting. You can’t for example portray Chacha Nehru as a complex figure, or state easily that one needs to look at the dangerous dictator that Indira Gandhi was in her early years, or Rajiv in his later years, with ties to arms dealers. Or that the Congress removed the lock on the gates of the Babri Masjid.
Q: When you see what happened to Wendy Doniger’s book, are you worried about the fate of intellectuals today?
A: There is no guarantee of any protection for anyone writing a serious work or making a serious argument. The publishers are very scared, and they have caved in.
Well, the publishers need to get smarter. They can’t afford to make the expensive mistake of publishing the book first and then having to pulp it. For instance, publishers canceled the release of Tamil author Joe D’Cruz’s book on finding out that he had pro-Modi views. This was brilliant. The publishers should learn to develop a sixth sense that allows them to stop before they publish, right at the threshold of publishing a dangerous thought that blasphemes the dynasty. Don’t go through the expensive process of publishing an anti-Dynasty thought and then getting the book pulped. In George Orwell’s 1984, there is even a word for this sixth sense in Newspeak: the word is “crimestop“, it is considered an essential skill for citizens of Oceania. All citizens of Lutyens have internalized the process of “crimestop”, stopping before they publish something blaspheming the Sultana.
Q: How do you react to historian Ramachandra Guha’s recent statement that this is the most anti-intellectual government India has ever had?
A: The BJP has always had an intellectual deficit. Their best intellectuals are apparently Arun Shourie and Madhu Kishwar. That’s about as good as they get. …They’re scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to intellectuals….
Honestly, I can’t tell here whether Subrahmanyam is insulting the BJP or trying to sell them something. Read it once and it feels like he is attacking the BJP. But read it a second time and it seems someone is hinting that he might be available as a remedy for “intellectual deficit” and offering his services for hire. This part looks a little like the recent Tata Sky commercials where they try to shame you into buying their pack of HD channels, no 🙂 ?
“They’ve built a small base among economists though, and maybe some scientists. The issue also is, has the BJP-RSS become ‘normalised’ and more pragmatic with the experience of power.”
And wonder why it so happens that the base is among economists and scientists who are the engines of actually taking the nation forward? And as for the BJP-RSS “normalizing” with the experience of power, there is nothing more satisfying to me than to see the starving jackals of Lutyens going around asking the BJP everyday if they would like to “normalize”.
“So they have this curious juxtaposition of Bhagwat and Bhagwati, as Pranab Bardhan puts it”
Indeed that is much more curious than the juxtaposition of Rahul, Lalu, Nitish, Mamata, Yechury, Kejriwal, Owaisi, Mulayam, Mayawati and Badruddin Ajmal. Those birds of the same feather would have flocked together anyway.
Q: Is this government failing to protect Indian pluralism?
A: In India the Muslim population is depressed; on many social indicators they are under the national average and yet they are supposed to be the problem. The real question is, what do the BJP and RSS want to do with India’s Muslims (or Christians), what do they imagine the long-term prospects of minorities are in India? I think there should be a debate on this, and that they should come clean. The RSS perhaps wants to wipe the slate clean and send all Muslims to Pakistan. But what is the BJP’s long-term policy towards Muslims, beyond simply the rage? What do they want Muslims to do? Wear a distinctive mark on their foreheads proclaiming they are second-class citizens? I don’t think the Sangh Parivar overall knows what it wants on Muslims, beyond simply knowing that they are angry about them.
In India, the BJP has been in power for only 7 out of 65 years and yet they are supposed to be the problem. The real question is, what do the Lutyens liberals want to do with the BJP (or with actually secular Muslims), what do they imagine the long term prospects of the Hindu right are in India? I think there should be a debate on this and they should come clean. The Lutyens perhaps wants to wipe the slate clean and send the entire Hindu right into the Indian Ocean. But what is Lutyens long-term policy towards the BJP, beyond simply the rage? What do they want BJP supporters to do? I don’t think the Mameluk Gharana overall knows what it wants on the Hindu right, beyond simply knowing that they are angry about them.
Q: Does the Indian public discourse today worry you?
A: You know Indians are known to be the most abusive users of the internet. Indian trolling is known widely to be highly vitriolic.
I think Sanjay Subrahmanyam has just broken Saggy aunty’s liberal heart with these lines. The correct response is : “HINDUS are known to be the most abusive users of the internet. HINDU trolling is known widely to be highly vitriolic.